Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Moving On

October has been a difficult month for me this year, and it’s not even over yet (though nearly).  But I sincerely hope the hardest things I will encounter this month are now behind me. 

October began with some rockiness in my personal life.  Now, three weeks later, I can look back with clarity and see that what happened was for the best.  But at the time—well, I was a mess for a little bit there.

And then, one week after my personal life had been turned upside down, the school called the foreign hire teachers into a meeting and informed us that they wanted our decisions about whether we wanted to renew our contracts at the end of this year or not soon.  Like within the next week, soon.

Last Christmas, I had decided this would be my third and final year living in Guatemala.  I felt the time was right and I would be ready to return to Wisconsin after this school year. 

But then eight months later, I came back here after summer vacation, and I was reminded about everything that I love about my life here.  I am happy in almost every single aspect of my life.  So I began to question my decision.  Maybe a fourth year in Guatemala wouldn’t be such a poor decision, after all.

My gut kept pulling me home, though.  I had thought I had another month to decide for sure, to make sure of my feelings, and to let my school know my plans for the following year.  When they asked us to inform them by October 21st, I suddenly felt less sure than ever before.  (My indecision also may have been influenced by my mostly-stable-but-recently-damaged mental state at the time of the meeting).    

I spent the next five days agonizing over my decision.  Crying.  Trying to reason with myself.  The thing was, something inside me told me moving home was the right thing to do.  But when my friends here asked me why I would leave, I didn’t have a good answer.  I love everything about my life here, and there are many things about moving back to Wisconsin that scare me, that I worry about, that I fear will make me less happy than I am here. 

But by Day 6, when I imagined how it would feel to tell my principal I was staying, it felt…wrong.  So, I told him I wouldn’t be returning.

I really think it was the right decision, though I still can’t define, exactly, my reasons why.  They have something to do with my future goals and where I want to end up years from now, however.  I feel it was the right move.  So now, the decision is off my shoulders, and I have the next seven months to enjoy my life—every single minute of it—and also mentally prepare myself to return to Wisconsin winters and public school teaching (but also to family, fall, the Mississippi, and safety on the streets).     

I lead a lovely life.  

Monday, October 26, 2015

When a 3 hour drive takes almost 9...

I hate Friday traffic in Guatemala.  Hate it.  With a passion.  From 3pm until about 8pm, trying to leave the city is horrendous and takes twice or three times as long as it would with no traffic.

On Friday afternoon, a group of us left right after school to go to the beach for the weekend.  I was one of the drivers, and I was adamant that we would leave the school parking lot at 3:02pm and we would make no stops until we were out of the city. 

We did leave the parking lot by about 3:05, but after that my master plan to arrive at the beach early in the evening started falling apart. 

First of all, we didn’t make it fifteen minutes before we had to pull over because my car was making odd grating sounds with every turn of the wheel or bump in the road.  We deduced that there was too much weight in the trunk, and we were able to transfer some of our load to one of the other cars.  Back on the road again.

Traffic was unusually slow leaving the city, but we finally were picking up speed, had left the capital behind us, and at about 5:30pm, we were looking forward to being at the beach by maybe 7pm.

And then, out of nowhere, we came to a standstill. 

And when I say standstill, I am not exaggerating.  I turned off my car and we spent an hour or more in the exact same spot.  Up and down the road, people were out of their cars, stretching their legs and getting a bit of air. 

Still early on; before people turned off their cars AND their lights, to
conserve their batteries.

At 8pm, we were still at Kilometer 36.  It had taken us five hours to go just over 20 miles.  We were beginning to go a little insane.  

It turns out there’d been a major accident, killing at least one person, and severely messing up traffic. 
(Quote of the night, after we'd been parked in the road for hours:
Jared: "There was this huge accident.  So, that's why traffic is slow."  
Jestina: "Um...this is not 'slow'.")   

It was about 9pm before we really started moving. 
After the traffic jam, we had to deal with a town feria (festival) blocking traffic, a street that more closely resembled a lake, and 79 speed bumps.  
It was 11:40pm by the time we reached our beach house.  

That, my friends, is a new record.   But being there, and waking up to the ocean at our doorstep, made it all worth it.  

Monday, October 5, 2015

Hiking Maderas: Volcanoes in Nicaragua

How could a volcano hike on which we saw only clouds from the summit rank in my top 5 hikes of all time?  I'll tell you how.   It's all about the journey,  people.

We started our hike from our hotel,  Finca MontaƱa Sagrada, on the Nicaraguan island of Ometepe,  a little after 8am.  The day was cloudy,  but we left with hopes that the skies would clear.   

Right from the start,  the hike was a whole different world from what Rachel and I have gotten used to in Guatemala.   The heat and humidity had us dripping sweat in short order.   Thankfully,  the route was shaded and we were more or less comfortable,  even sweaty as we were.

Farmland and petroglyphs at the base of the volcano
The air was filled with the sounds of howler monkeys,  and soon enough,  we actually saw a couple.   Our guide also pointed out a mean looking venomous land crab (a different species than the kind that live in Lago Nicaragua).  Right next to the path,  we saw a huge black and yellow spider (the size of my palm) that our guide assured us was harmless.   He also pointed out a giant frog (the size of my foot) and told us bigger ones exist.   Next,  we saw small capuchin monkeys with furry white faces leaping through the trees.

It's hard to get good photos of monkeys.
Through all this,  we were passing through dense rainforest foliage and climbing up and over and under huge tree roots slippery from last night's rain.   

When we reached the summit, just under 4 hours after we had started walking,  the sun was out.   On one side,  we looked down into the volcano's crater,  which is now a lake.   On the other side,  clouds blocked our view of Volcan ConcepciĆ³n and the rest of the Isla de a Ometepe.   We decided to take a break and see if the clouds cleared.   The temperature was comfortable,  the sun shone, and a breeze kept the air moving.  At one point,  a flock of bright green birds took off and circled right over us before winging off into the distance.   It was idyllic,  even without a view.  

Our way back down was slippery,  and I kept falling (sometimes more gracefully than others).  I lost count of how many times I ended up on my backside,  cushioned by the mud of the path.   Sadly,  our guide didn't seem to find my falls entertaining (not that I meant them to be,  but they're easier to deal with when someone is laughing with you).  I tried to keep it under control,  really.

The highlight of our trip down the mountain came when we rounded a corner and stopped in our tracks because a boa constrictor was blocking the path.   A boa!!  I'd never seen one outside of a zoo before. Thankfully,  she slithered off back into the underbrush and didn't cause us any problems.   How cool!

It's a little blurry, but there's the front half of our 5ft boa! 
We saw more monkeys and crabs on our way down.

But the reason this hike will be one of my top 5 is a culmination of everything about it.  The hike itself was fun and interesting, which is not always the case with volcano hikes in Guate.   A lot of them begin to look the same.   And you never see wildlife there.   This hike was clean,  secluded,  and full of new treasures around each corner.

Customary celebratory Snickers
on the summit